SECAUCUS, N.J. - The Washington Nationals selected junior-college slugger Bryce Harper with the No. 1 overall pick in the baseball draft Monday night.

Harper, a 17-year-old with prodigious power from the College of Southern Nevada, is one of the most-hyped players in draft history because of his eye-popping talent at the plate.

He hit .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in his first college season in a wood-bat league, after skipping his final two years of high school and getting his GED.

"It was pretty difficult at the beginning, but you know, being around the guys I was around," Harper said, "all the guys I played in high school, my brother being around, it made it easier."

A year after taking similarly hyped righthander Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals took Harper, who can play catcher but was announced as an outfielder at the draft site at MLB Network studios by commissioner Bud Selig.

"Frankly, I didn't think that it was that much of a surprise," Selig said while a few dozen fans cheered in the studio.

It wasn't, but where the Nationals plan to play him was.

Harper showed solid defensive instincts behind the plate and called pitches much of the time, but the Nationals think his bat could get to the majors faster if he plays outfield.

"I can get better out there, I think," Harper said. "Anywhere they need me, I'll play. I just want to make it, and we'll see what happens when I get there."

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo envisions Harper as a No. 3-type power hitter with a strong arm in right field.

"We're going to take the rigor and the pressures of learning the position, the difficult position of catcher, away from him," Rizzo said, "and really let him concentrate on the offensive part of the game and let his athleticism take over as an outfielder."

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper surpassed former big-league pitcher Alex Fernandez, who went fourth overall to the Chicago White Sox in 1990, as the highest-drafted JUCO player.

With the second overall pick, Pittsburgh selected hard-throwing Texas high school righthander Jameson Taillon. He was considered by many as the top pitcher in the draft with a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s.

Baltimore went next and picked smooth-fielding Florida high school shortstop Manny Machado, who has drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez for his ability and background, and Cal State-Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon went to Kansas City at No. 4.

Delino DeShields Jr., son and namesake of the former second baseman, was drafted No. 8 by Houston. He's a centerfielder from Woodward Academy in College Park, Ga.

Righthander Cam Bedrosian from East Coweta High in Sharpsburg, Ga., was drafted 29th by the Los Angeles Angels. Cam is the son of Steve Bedrosian, who won the NL Cy Young Award as a closer with the Phillies in 1987.